The United Nations agency tasked with protecting
the world’s cultural and environmental wonders is setting its sights
As in, the bottom of ocean.
UNESCO has called out five areas in the high
seas—from habitats of delicate coral to one of white sharks’ favorite
hangouts—that it thinks should be among the next generation of World
The designation of “World Heritage Site” is more
than a bragging right or marketing slogan. Countries apply for the
designation to access the World Heritage Fund, which provides money to
help preserve these areas.
The list spans from Persepolis to Grand Canyon National Park, from Lake Turkana to the Galapagos Islands.
There are already some underwater sites included
on the list, such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, but ecosystems out
on the high seas—in areas that are not governed by any sovereign
nation—are a gray area for UNESCO.
That’s because governments are the
ones who have to ask UNESCO to consider adding the site to its
prestigious list, and ecosystems in the high seas don’t have anyone to
apply for them.
“Although these sites are far from our shores,
they are not safe from threats, whether it be climate change, deep
seabed mining, navigation or plastic pollution,” says UNESCO.
for the inclusion of five areas in the high seas in a report (pdf) last week (Aug. 3):
The Costa Rica Thermal Dome, a nutrient-rich area of the eastern Pacific where species like blue whales and leatherback sea turtles migrate and feed.
The White Shark Café, a stretch of the Pacific between North America and Hawaii that’s a habitat of white sharks
The Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean that’s home to free-floating algae.
The Lost City Hydrothermal Field, a deep-sea system of active hot springs and carbonate spires.
The Atlantis Bank, a sunken fossil island in the sub-tropical Indian Ocean that’s home to deep-sea coral species and large anemones
It’s not yet clear how the designation will
affect those sites.
Often, the UNESCO seal gives sites much more
international attention and can lead to a flood of tourists to the areas it is trying to protect—especially if there’s the chance that it is endangered.
Go on a 360° adventure with Greg Foot - Science Presenter and Triton Submarines pilot Kelvin, as they fly up the side of one the three underwater mountains (or seamounts) that make up Bermuda’s distinctive seabed landscape.
There are three significant seamounts in these waters: Argus, Challenger and Bermuda itself.
The deep ocean makes up 95% of habitable Earth, yet only 0.0001% has
been explored. The Guardian joined a mission off Bermuda that is looking
to unlock the secrets of the deep.
largest migration on Earth is very rarely seen by human eyes, yet it
happens every day.
Billions of marine creatures ascend from as far as
2km below the surface of the water to the upper reaches of the ocean at
night, only to then float back down once the sun rises.
This huge movement
of organisms – ranging from tiny cockatoo squids to microscopic
crustaceans, shifting for food or favourable temperatures – was little
known to science until relatively recently.
In fact, almost all of the deep ocean, which represents 95% of the living space
on the planet, remains inscrutable, despite the key role it plays in
supporting life on Earth, such as regulating the air we breathe.
Scientists are only now starting to overturn this ignorance, at a time
when this unknown world is being subjected to rising temperatures, ocean
acidification and the strewn waste expelled by humans.
“The deeper we go, the less we know,” said Nick Schizas, a marine
biologist at the University of Puerto Rico.
“The majority of habitat of
Earth is the deeper areas of the ocean.
Yet we know so little about it.”
Explore the deep ocean in 360° with Nekton Mission
Schizas is part of a new research mission that will, for the first
time, provide a comprehensive health check of the deep oceans that
future changes will be measured against.
The consortium of scientists
and divers, led by Nekton, is backed by XL Catlin, which has already funded a global analysis
of shallow water coral reefs.
The new mission is looking far deeper –
onwards of 150m down, further than most research that is restricted by
the limits of scuba divers.
We already know of some of the creatures of the deep – such as the translucent northern comb jelly, the faintly horrifying fangtooth and the widely derided blobfish
– where the pressure is up to 120 times greater than the surface.
deep sea was further illuminated during the film director James
Cameron’s cramped solo “vertical torpedo” dive to the 11km deep Mariana trench in 2012.
Yet only an estimated 0.0001% of the deep ocean has been explored.
The Nekton researchers are discovering a whole web of life that could be
unknown to science as they attempt to broaden this knowledge.
Guardian joined the mission vessel Baseline Explorer in its survey off
the coast of Bermuda, where various corals, sponges and sea slugs have been hauled up from the deep.
“Every time we look in the deep sea, we find a lot of new species,”
said Alex Rogers, an Oxford University biologist who has previously
found a new species of lobster in the deep Indian Ocean and huge
hydrothermal vents off Antarctica.
In Bermuda, the scientists have found fossilised beaches – a remnant
of the last ice age when sea levels were much lower – and large black
coral forests that the locals were unaware of.
“There are probably three
or four new species of coral here, and some of the critters on the
corals may be new too,” Rogers said.
Rogers is leading the scientific effort during a month-long survey of
the three underwater volcanoes, known as seamounts, that lie near
Bermuda – itself a volcano that pokes out of the north-west Atlantic.
The Nekton mission, which will also include analysis of the deep sea off
Nova Scotia, is recording indicators such as temperature, salinity,
currents and discarded plastics.
Mapping via sonar has also provided new data on previously unknown
Peer-reviewed research from the trips will be accelerated and
available, it’s hoped, by early next year.
Nekton’s next mission will be
to explore the Mediterranean.
want to a get a big-picture understanding because no one knows the
state of the deep ocean,” said Oliver Steeds, cofounder and mission
director of Nekton.
“We’ve come to a point where the most important part
of the planet is the least known, which isn’t healthy.”
Steeds, a former journalist, said he was inspired by the “Yuri
Gagarins of the deep sea” – William Beebe and Otis Barton.
early 1930s, the duo plunged into the depths in the “Bathysphere”,
essentially a hollow steel ball, after realising that submarines of the
time were useless for viewing marine creatures.
The bathysphere, lowered
by steel cables from a ship, surveyed sites around Bermuda and
descended beyond 3,000ft.
The Nekton mission is a far cry from this.
The Guardian squeezed into an extremely cosy two-person Triton submersible
lowered from the Baseline Explorer to survey the sloping face of a
The 2.5-tonne Triton vessel, comprised of a tough
goldfish-bowl-like pod with ballast and thrusters that control movement,
is a nimble craft initially aimed at wealthy super-yacht owners.
Dragooned into the service of science, two Triton vessels – the Nemo
and the Nomad – have been taking multiple dives down to 300m to assess
this patch of the Atlantic.
A mechanical grabbing arm picks up samples
of sponge and coral, with tubes capturing water samples.
The light blue of the surface turns a more navy hue as we descend
further, with the sun becoming hazy as if it were obscured on a very
The warmth disappears and the light fades the further you go
– by 4,000m the temperature is a little above freezing and all is dark
At 150m, however, it’s still possible to see the enormous walls of
the Bermuda volcano, formed more than 30m years ago and, even at this
depth, dotted with life.
Curly whip coral is strewn across the moon-like
Small fish flit across the surface.
Depressingly, several lion
fish, a voracious invasive species that has spread from Florida, can be
The experience is much like exploring another planet in a slightly
claustrophobic air bubble.
And given our lack of knowledge about the
deep sea, the otherworldliness felt particularly apt.
The state of the deep sea has been somewhat overshadowed by alarm at a vast coral bleaching event, which has decimated shallow water corals on the Great Barrier Reef, the Caribbean and the Maldives.
Schizas says the “horrible” bleaching, in which prolonged high
temperatures cause corals to whiten and ultimately die, has spread to
Honduras and could soon reach Bermuda – the far north limit of the coral
zone in the Atlantic.
The warming seas have also become riddled with more than 5tn pieces of discarded plastic, which cause damage throughout the food chain and have inspired ambitious inventions to clean up the huge patches of seaborne garbage.
Visible problems near the surface can percolate downwards, given the
dynamic nature of life that moves up and down the water column.
coral bleaching isn’t an issue for deeper corals, the excess heat being
sucked up by the ocean, as well as its increasing acidity, is altering
the deep sea before we even know what we are changing.
“Climate change is a significant problem because it affects the means
of primary food production, so there is less food going to deep water,”
“You also start getting more zones without oxygen.
This is a worry
because the deep sea carries out important ecosystem services for us,
such as food production, carbon sequestration, moderating the
temperature of the planet and the gases around us.
They do a number of
critical things that are more or less invisible to the average person on
Scientists are still thrashing out a theory about how coral, the
building block for 25% of all marine life on the planet, is replenished.
If, as thought, deep sea corals help spawn replacements for shallow
water corals that bleach and die, then any deterioration of these hidden
creatures could trigger even steeper declines than expected as
bleaching events become more common.
Working this out will require ambitious scientific enquiry, something
that has been sparse since the financial crash of 2008.
picked up the slack somewhat and has the most advanced submersible
– the Qianlong, which can reach 4,500m – but Rogers and some of his
colleagues fret that the exploration will simply be a precursor for deep-sea mining.
Chinese and Canadian interests are already working to open up the seabed off Papua New Guinea for minerals.
Localised and international protections are also lacking.
been largely denuded of marine life due to overfishing, with the
government, which is under the auspices of Britain, last year shelving a
plan for a new ocean reserve despite overwhelming public support.
The high seas, which lie beyond national maritime borders, is even more of a free-for-all, with the UN calling this month for five remote marine areas to be protected from overfishing, pollution and mining.
“Deep sea research needs to be funded at a similar scale to space research.
It’s as simple as that,” said Rogers.
“We want to get more people engaged in the deep seas, to feel
inspired and care more about them.
Hopefully, people will then start to
demand they are managed properly.”
On Wednesday, Indonesia celebrated its Independence Day with a bang -- blowing up
several Chinese boats that had been caught fishing illegally in its
waters and impounded.
China doesn't dispute Indonesia's territorial
claims, but Chinese fishermen have more pressing concerns.
reports in Chinese state media this week, overfishing and pollution have
so depleted China's own fishery resources that in some places --
including the East China Sea -- there are virtually "no fish" left.
That's a frightening prospect for an increasingly hungry country: China accounted for 35 percent
of the world's seafood consumption in 2015.
Seeking catches further
afield -- including in Indonesian waters -- isn't really a solution;
fish stocks in the disputed South China Sea have themselves fallen by as
much as 95 percent from 1950s levels.
If China doesn't want the rest of
Asia's fisheries to suffer the same fate as its own, it's going to have
to think much more ambitiously about how to create a sustainable food
supply for the region.
As in other developing countries, China's
ascent up the income ladder has been accompanied by an improvement in
quality and quantity of diet.
Seafood -- once a pricey luxury in much of
the country -- has become commonplace, even inland; China is now the
world's biggest seafood consumer and exporter.
The economic impact has
Between 1979 and 2013, China's fleet of motorized
fishing vessels grew from 55,225 to 694,905 boats, while the number of
people employed in the fishing industry exploded
from 2.25 million to more than 14 million.
Meanwhile, the average
fisherman's income increased from around $15 per month to nearly $2,000
Today, the fishing industry generates more than $260 billion annually, accounting for around 3 percent of Chinese GDP.
in pursuing growth (and catch) at all costs, China's fishermen have
exacted a terrible environmental toll.
Today, the Yangtze River, which
supplies 60 percent of China's freshwater catch, produces
less than a quarter of the fish it did in 1954, and most of the 170
species in the river are on the verge of extinction.
The situation is no
The government acknowledges
that Chinese fishermen routinely exceed annual sustainable catch limits
in Chinese territorial seas by 30 percent or more.
A visit to any
Chinese seafood market will turn up large inventories of under-sized
fish that should never have been hauled in in the first place.
Blame for this state of affairs falls on both the fishing industry and the government, which spent $6.5 billion
on fisheries subsidies in 2013 alone.
Nearly all of that money paid for
cheap fuel that allowed and arguably encouraged Chinese fishermen to
venture further from shore, often into the comparatively un-plundered
exclusive economic zones of countries such as Indonesia.
Chinese military has openly abetted
those efforts by subsidizing everything from ice to GPS on Chinese
The goal: to solidify China's claim to "historical
fishing rights" in the vast and deeply contested South China Sea.
Chinese regulators are fighting a losing battle against these other wings of the government.
In 1999, China imposed a seasonal fishing ban in the South China Sea, and in 2002 regulators did
the same in sections of the Yangtze River.
But the continued
deterioration of both fisheries only underscores how ineffective those
restrictions have been.
In response, in 2013 one Chinese scientist proposed an outright 10-year moratorium on fishing in the economically essential Yangtze.
This week, Chinese officials signaled they were open to the idea and were even considering a wholesale culling of China's fishing fleet.
both measures would be a boon to Asia's fisheries, they're only a
To make a real difference, China would need to demilitarize its
fishing fleets and end the ruinous military-funded fuel subsidies that
are encouraging unregulated catches, not to mention raising geopolitical
Fishing fleets should be regulated by civilian marine and
agricultural authorities, not generals with little interest in
Equally important, China should explicitly link
the task of reviving and preserving fisheries to the clean water and
other environmental initiatives in its economic planning documents,
including the government's five-year plans.
Doing so would raise them to
a national priority akin to cleaning up Beijing's air.
priorities could then be extended to trade agreements, including the
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) China's currently
negotiating with other Asian nations, as well as bilateral deals with
other claimants in the South China Sea.
The goal should be to make China
a leader -- and perhaps even a brand -- in sustainable seafood.
luck, that would buy China not just more fish to eat, but a reputation
as a responsible global citizen.
With everyone holidaying for summer, travel sickness is going to be an
issue for many. But why? It could be an evolution-based glitch in the
lot of people, when they travel by car, ship, plane or whatever, end
up feeling sick.
They’re fine before they get into the vehicle, they’re
typically fine when they get out.
But whilst in transit, they feel sick.
Particularly, it seems, in self-driving cars.
One theory is that it’s due to a weird glitch that means your brain
gets confused and thinks it’s being poisoned.
This may seem surprising;
not even the shoddiest low-budget airline would get away with pumping
toxins into the passengers (airline food doesn’t count, and that joke is
out of date).
So where does the brain get this idea that it’s being
Despite being a very “mobile” species, humans have evolved for
certain types of movement.
Specifically, walking, or running.
has a specific set of neurological processes tied into it, so we’ve had millions of years to adapt to it.
Think of all the things going on in your body when you’re walking,
and how the brain would pick up on these.
There’s the steady
thud-thud-thud and pressure on your feet and lower legs.
There’s all the
signals from your muscles and the movement of your body, meaning the motor cortex (which controls conscious movement of muscles) and proprioception
(the sense of the arrangement of your body in space, hence you can
know, for example, where your arm is behind your back without looking at
it directly) are all supplying particular signals.
There’s also the vestibular system,
which includes the balance sensors; tiny fluid-filled tubes in our
The fluid responds to the laws of physics, so moves about in
response to acceleration and gravity, so we can tell when we’re upside
down, for example.
And, of course, there’s our vision.
When we walk, the
world travels past on our retinas at a steady rate, and there’s the gentle side-to-side rocking caused by our hips and legs etc.
Being sick at home is hard; being sick on a boat can be unbearable! Keep sea sickness from ruining your vacation by following a few of our easy steps.
When we’re walking, all of this sensory information is fed into the fundamental, subconscious areas of the brain, like the thalamus, that integrate it into one coherent and rich perception of ourselves and the world around us.
vehicles haven’t been around long enough for our brains, at such
fundamental levels, to “recognise” when we’re travelling in one.
when you’re travelling, all the usual signals of movement are absent.
Your muscles are still.
You’re sat down.
Being inside the enclosed space
of the vehicle even restricts your view of the outside world, so your
eyes don’t see much passing by.
This all results in sensory information
that says to the fundamental brains regions “we are stationary”.
Not the vestibular system though; the fluid in your ears obeys
physics, travelling at high speeds means it sloshes around even more
than usual, so it’s telling the brain “we are really moving”.
That means these fundamental regions are getting mixed signals; usually
reliable senses are now disagreeing.
What the hell can cause that? As
far as the lower brain is concerned, only one thing; neurotoxin, aka
And what’s the quickest way to get rid of poison? Throw up.
so, we feel nauseous, and often vomit.
Deadliest Catch - Crews Get Over Seasickness
Production crew members try to find their sea legs and avoid hot-headed crewmen.
You can see why this might be more common in self-driving cars;
there’s a lot of physical movement and watching the road when driving,
so the signals aren’t so mixed.
Take that and its associated movements
away, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see increased motion sickness.
Some of you will know I cover all this in my book The Idiot Brain, so why rehash it here.
Well, the US version of the book was released three weeks ago.
I did some publicity for it, one item of which was an appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross.
Now it’s appeared in the Mail, the Sun and the Telegraph.
This puts us in the slightly weird scenario where the Guardian was
likely to be the only UK paper that hasn’t mentioned it, despite the
fact that the originator of the story is already working for them! So I felt I’d best address it here.
Cruise ship caught in furious storm
Another reason to cover it is that, as with most things that spread
like this, inaccuracies, distortions and misinterpretations gradually
Now I’m reading stories that mention me by name that include
claims and assertions that I’ve never heard before.
So, I’d like to
clarify a few points.
I did not discover this mechanism, I just read about it.
It is not a new discovery.
I read about it years ago and didn’t realize until recently it wasn’t common knowledge.
It even has a Wikipedia page.
This is not definitely the mechanism why which motion sickness occurs.
There are other theories.
It may be a combination of all these things, or something else.
The one described above is the most persistent theory though.
And finally, anyone who has classed me an “expert” on something should be approached with caution.
The team spotted this Stubby Squid off the coast of California at a depth of 900 meters (2,950 feet). The stubby squid (Rossia pacifica) looks like a cross between an octopus and squid, but is more closely related to cuttlefish.
This species spends life on the seafloor, activating a sticky mucus jacket and burrowing into the sediment to camouflage, leaving their eyes poking out to spot prey like shrimp and small fish.
Rossia pacifica is found in the Northern Pacific from Japan to Southern California up to 300m, but in addition to our sighting, researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have spotted them at depths of 1,300 m (4,260 ft).
E/V Nautilus is exploring the ocean studying biology, geology, archeology, and more.